Can the Interior Ministry be a stakeholder of the Supreme Election Board?
Article 14 of law no. 298 regarding elections regulates the duties and authorities of the Supreme Election Board (YSK). Recently, with the significant amendments in the respective law, the YSK has new stakeholders, who are now allowed to exercise those duties and authorities. These are governors.
Of course, you could also be reading this as the Interior Ministry.
Furthermore, those jurisdictions include the very crucial and sensitive issue of the relocation of ballot boxes on the basis of election security.
According to the amendments in the respective law, those new regulations shall be invoked “upon an application by the governor or the head of the provincial election board one month before the elections, if deemed necessary from the perspective of election security.”
While the YSK will still have the final say, governors will be able to make requests over the following issues—a) relocating ballot boxes to another place, b) merging constituencies (except in elections for village heads) and c) compiling mixed voter registers.
Therefore, with those new regulations, governors who are state officials subject to directives from the government are allowed to step into an area where an autonomous YSK exercises all those duties and authorities. This is an autonomous body where only members of the judiciary are entitled to the right to vote and four large political parties are represented.
The amendments made in law no. 298 titled “fundamental provisions on elections and voter registers” include other critical arrangements that are also related to election safety.
For example, in the old system, if order is disturbed in the ballot-box area by the use of violence, coercion and intimidation, only the chairman of the ballot-box committee was authorized to call in security forces. In the new system, citizens too will be able to file complaints.
This paves the way for security forces to intervene in the ballot-box area, even without an invitation from the ballot-box committee chairman.
Another amendment is a complement to the above mentioned regulation, which redefines “the area of the ballot box.” According to the old regulation (article 81), this area was defined as an area in 15 meters in radius around which the ballot-box committee performs its duties. In the new regulation, it is defined as a room, section and a place arranged for this purpose where the ballot box is located and the ballot-box committee performs its duties.
Given the fact that people mostly cast their votes in classrooms, this new regulation might limit the physical space of authority for the chairman of the ballot-box committee.
Likewise, the new regulation, which allows people living in the same apartment to vote in different ballot boxes, has stirred debates in parliament during discussions on the legislation.
We will see the results of the amendments that have created sensitivities regarding election safety only on election night.
It could be said that a system that had been in use for seventy years has undergone a substantial overhaul for the first time.
Turkey’s election system had been based on law no. 5545 titled “parliamentary elections,” which was prepared through a consensus with the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Democrat Party (DP) in 1950 and based on law no. 298 legislated in 1961, which replaced the previous one. In many aspects, law no. 298 was not much different than the previous law no. 5545.
With the amendments made in 2018, the spaces of autonomy held by the YSK and the ballot committees have been narrowed in favor of the state for the first time. Those new regulations, therefore, reflect a change in the mindset.
Turkey’s history of democracy, which has been marred by a number of flaws, chiefly by military coups, has been a painstaking experience. Despite all those problems, after 1950, when Turkey moved to the multi-party system, an election system that helped to hold elections in a fair and orderly fashion has been in place. People trusted this election system. And this is worthy of praise and one of the best aspects of Turkish democracy.
Elections have been the most stable area in Turkey’s democracy, even though the 2017 referendum caused some controversy and that was the first exception.
We can only hope the latest amendments will not cast a shadow on this good track record.